Saturday, February 21, 2009

Marijuana More Popular Than Republicans?

From the Daily Kos.

The Republican Party has a favorable rating of 31% (unfavorable: 62%).  While the two survey questions can't be directly compared, it is instructive that people view current marijuana prohibition more "unfavorable" than the GOP:

CBS News/New York Times Poll. Jan. 11-15, 2009. N=1,112 adults nationwide

"Do you think that the use of marijuana should be made legal or not?"

Should not 52%, Should 41%, Unsure 7%

Friday, February 20, 2009

Standardized Tests & Progress Reports ==> Less Challenging, Enriching Curriculum?

This dovetails really nicely with the more general critique I posted of curricular standards a month or so ago:

Getting an F or a D led schools to assign fewer essays, projects

When the Bloomberg administration announced it would assign every public school a letter grade, based largely on test scores, critics worried the grades would lead to a “drill and kill” approach to teaching. Forced to raise test scores, they said, schools might avoid teaching creativity and problem-solving in favor of focusing on basic skills. New research suggests that the critics worries may have come true — but the researchers don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bad Science in Education

Deborah Meier from Bridging Differences has a good post about painting a picture of what education could be, as a means of motivating society to put forth the necessary resources to attain it.  She references Charles Murray's The Bell Curve, a book claiming that differences in education achievement are function of innate intelligence, or IQ, and that white kids achieve more than black kids because they are innately smarter.
We both know that on the biggest question—of human potential—Murray is dead wrong. It takes only one example to prove that point. It is no longer a matter of hope or faith for me, but experience. Although one example doesn’t demonstrate how it can be done on a larger scale.
But this post - by a pretty big figure in the education community - makes an elementary statistical error.  Murray claims that the white kid bell curve is shifted several points to the right of the black kid bell curve, so that the typical white kid is smarter than the typical black kid; he does not say all white kids are smarter than all black kids.  In fact, the graph below demonstrates that his own argument requires that almost 50% of black kids are smarter than almost 50% of white kids.

Now, I happen to think Murray is wrong too.  But when people make mistakes like Meier, it makes people like Murray appear more credible, and I think all of this underscores the lack of attention the education community places on mathematical or scientific literacy (perhaps because so few of us have math and science backgrounds).

The more compelling argument against Murray is one mentioned by cognitive scientist Stephen Pinker in The Blank Slate: which is that while population sub-group IQs can be different at a given point in time, they tend to converge in the long run.  And in fact, this is what has happened to most American immigrant groups, suggesting that differences in sub-group IQs are environmental rather than innate.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is Maureen Dowd Necessary?

In today's column for the New York Times, Maureen Dowd remarks that "Hillary aced her Senate hearing," adding:
She was on top of all the issues, no matter how obscure. She batted around our “stale” arctic policy — who knew? — with Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who doesn’t seem to realize we’re sick of Alaska.
"Obscure?" "Who knew?" Really?

Russia's land grab in the Arctic was on the front page of the paper Dowd writes for and also made the cover of the Economist. A search for "russia arctic flag seabed 2008" on the New York Times website yields 156 results. "Russia arctic flag" on Google gets more results than "Maureen Dowd." The event has important implications for both our relationship with Russia and the future of energy security. You know, the future of American foreign policy and the defining issue of the domestic agenda.

Thank you, "Newspaper of Record," for this twice-weekly dosage of ignorant sass.

Edit: Someone suggested that Dowd was being facetious. This is unlikely, because she also writes, "[Clinton] was up to date on the inevitable Law of the Sea Treaty," poking fun at the apparent obscurity of the law.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Klein and Sharpton Write Obama

In today's WSJ Joel Klein and Al Sharpton give the President-Elect two education policy recommendations: develop national standards and devote most of the federal money we have now to recruiting and retaining high quality teachers in high-need areas.

First, the federal government, working with the governors, should develop national standards and assessments for student achievement. Our current state-by-state approach has spawned a race to the bottom, with many states dumbing down standards to make it easier for students to pass achievement tests. Even when students manage to graduate from today's inner-city high schools, they all too frequently are still wholly unprepared for college or gainful employment.

Second, the federal government should take most of the more than $30 billion it now spends on K-12 education and reposition the funding to support the recruitment and retention of the best teachers in underserved urban schools. High-poverty urban schools have many teachers who make heroic efforts to educate their students. But there is no reward for excellence in inner-city schools when an outstanding science teacher earns the same salary as a mediocre phys-ed instructor.